Letter to the editor, re: Nader and popular support for progressive policies

To the editors:
In your harangue against Ralph Nader (Chicago Tribune editorial, "Irrelevant at any speed", 2008 February 27), you suggest that issues like single-payer health insurance and reducing the military budget are being ignored by the major presidential candidates because they "don't see sufficient public support for them". Five minutes on the internet would have proved you wrong.

In an October 2003 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 62 percent of respondents preferred "a universal health insurance program, in which everybody is covered under a program like Medicare that's run by the government and financed by taxpayers." Polls have consistently shown that overwhelming majorities of Americans believe health coverage is a right that should be guaranteed by the government, and large majorities are also willing to pay higher taxes to accomplish this goal. Yet single-payer health insurance, if done right, would actually lower overall health costs and simultaneously accomplish universal coverage. Just ask any other rich country - they all cover all their citizens, and they all pay less for comparable levels of care.

As for military spending, a March 2007 Gallup poll found that 43 percent of respondents think the U.S. spends too much on its military, compared with 20 percent who think military spending is too low and 35 percent who say it's about right.

Clearly there are high levels of popular support for progressive solutions, which is even more remarkable in light of the fact that mainstream politicians and the media ignore them. Perhaps Nader is right after all - progressive policies are suppressed not because of popular indifference but because powerful interests like the health
industry and military lobby have a stranglehold on our politics.


Heads up on Nader

Looks like Nader will be announcing a presidential run when he appears on Meet the Press tomorrow.

The vitriol from the liberals has already started. I doubt that Nader will have much of an effect on this election, since the Democrats will go all out to keep him off ballots and smear him in public, while the media will only talk to him about his chances for acting as a spoiler.

Nader will be the only high-profile candidate addressing hugely important issues like the need for single-payer healthcare, the ridiculous size of the military, and the continuing domination of corporate power over our lives. Yet I've become very disillusioned with him since the 2000 election. Certainly not for "costing Gore the election" (Gore won the election - the Supreme Court and electoral college were the real forces that cost him the election). The problem is that Nader never followed up with the real strength of his candidacy - getting disaffected people organized and involved in grassroots struggles. In 2004 Nader didn't even run on the Green Party ticket, further weakening the effort to build a real electoral alternative.

Even so, in the arguments that will follow Nader's announcement I'll definitely be defending his right to run and the importance of raising the issues he'll concentrate on. And most important, I'll remind those who hysterically condemn Nader that they should be spending their time instead demanding instant runoff voting, a simple electoral reform that would eliminate the spoiler problem and make our political system more democratic.


Suburbs still a haven of selfishness and racism

Probably the biggest obstacle in America to an environmentally sustainable society (other than maybe meat-eating) is the low density of our cities. There are a handful of high-density cities built in the 19th century, but the fastest-growing cities like Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, and Las Vegas are almost completely composed of sprawl, and even the dense cities are surrounded by their own sprawling (and rapidly-growing) suburbs.

The main problem is that building and maintaining sprawl is an incredibly inefficient use of resources. It takes more land and covers it with concrete, strip malls, and TGIFridays; it uses more raw materials to build and heat so many one-family homes and to extend the roads, sewers, and electrical lines; and worst of all it requires that cars be the main form of transportation. Public transit is only feasible under conditions of high density, when ridership is high enough to sustain regular bus and train routes, while walking or biking the extended distances of the suburbs is usually not realistic for many people.

Long Island is the birthplace of sprawl, where the first true suburbs emerged after World War II. It is also an unusually progressive suburban area, electing more Democrats than Republicans and county leaders who argue for denser, more vertical development. But the impulses that have always led people to move to the suburbs - a desire for a big home with access to good schools and a neighborhood without any minorities or poor people - are still strong even there, even in the face of an impending crisis in housing affordability. A recent survey found that
Fifty-nine percent of Long Islanders could never imagine themselves living in an apartment. Asked which type of neighborhood they preferred — one where you could walk to stores or one that required driving — 56 percent said they would rather drive. Meanwhile, only 7 percent agreed that “creating ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods” was the major advantage of building more affordable housing. Asked what the worst disadvantage was, 20 percent said “bringing in the wrong kinds of people.”
If I were optimistic I'd say that once we get a carbon tax or its equivalent, a lot of this problem would go away. If the price of fossil fuels started to reflect their real social costs, the building of new sprawl would cease, cities like Houston or Phoenix would collapse economically and become the Detroits of the next generation, and high-density development would take off. But reading comments on Chicago Tribune articles related to transit, as I am wont to do, makes me think otherwise. Here's a fairly typical example, which the comment service identified as originating in Oak Brook, Illinois (errors of spelling and spacing preserved):
Maybe you can send all the illegals from your state [he is responding to a poster from California] and they can drive the buses and trains for $2.00 HR! Never mind we have way to many already!I hope the CTA goes down the toilet if you cant run a business with the money you have shut down we in the burbs are tired of bailing out Chicago! I'm lucky i dont buy anything in the collar counties so the only money they will ever get from is the money i cant control them from getting!I will be moving shortly from crook state!
The heady mix of antitax selfishness and anti-immigrant racism is pretty telling, and I think once the attack on car culture and sprawl starts taking off the backlash will only get worse. My fear is that we might be facing a new culture war, not over religious issues (fundamentalists may even prove to be allies), but over the sacrifices needed to combat global warming and the particular brand of anti-egalitarian, neoliberal individualism that could be called the ideology of the suburbs. It's a confrontation that will have to be made at some point, but I'm worried that getting bogged down in it might fatally delay urgent steps needed to control greenhouse gas emissions.